SVOD players tweaking production models

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 9 June 2015

Subscription video on demand (SVOD) player Stan is getting several calls a day from writers and producers desperate to jump on the streaming bandwagon, as local players try to mix and match their content models for maximum impact and minimum outlay.

Content director Nick Forward recently told AdNews that since it made it public that it was looking to commission local content, his phone had been ringing off the hook.

“Since we made the broader announcement in February ... interest has been piqued hugely and we have several approaches a day from writers and producers who are interested in seeing whether we're a good home for some of their ideas,” Forward said.

One of the production houses which has been successful in grabbing the attention of Stan was Jungleboys, which is going ahead with the development of 'No Activity' as a SVOD exclusive. It's currently in production and due to stream later this year.

The production house has done a whole stack of commercial work, along with producing comedy for the ABC, and is the production company behind the Bondi Hipsters.

Executive director of Jungleboys Jason Burrows told AdNews that the show began life as a pitch to Network Nine, through programming production executive Courtney Gibson.

She sort of enquired as to what was on our slate, and we had shot some individual shorts about two cops in a car,” Burrows said. “ It all went a bit quiet for a while there they [Stan] concentrated on the launch, but it's all gone pretty smooth and quickly since then and they've given us a lot of creative freedom.”

Forward said while the shorts needed work to be fleshed out into a full series, it had the necessary ingredients in place.

“I think what we look for a is a huge passion for making the sort of content that works for streaming services, so that's stuff that's a little bit quirky and different, and designed to be consumed in large quantities,” Forward said.

For Jungleboys' part, they were appreciating the creative freedom producing for a SVOD platform brought.

“It's quite good because they don't have to hit a broad market, so it seems to be that their model is they get people who they trust and they let them go for it. They want a smaller number of people to really, really love it,” Burrows said.

“The big difference is that they don't have to hit a broad audience.”

Forward said while picking up No Activity was a “no brainer”, that he had received plenty of pitches that he had handballed to Network Nine.

There's definitely some pitches we feel would be better served on broadcast channels, and that's no better or worse but just a different style,” Forward said. “There's a constant dialogue between us and Channel Nine about pitches they feel may be more relevant for us and what's relevant for them.”

Here's the rub though, the cost of producing content in Australia is astronomically high.

Sources have told AdNews that rival service Presto has all-but conceded that local content is expensive to make, and has gone the other way and decided to double-down on costs hoping the content produced will act as a marketing vehicle for the platform.

While No Activity is a relatively low-cost project, international sales is seen as vital to the partnership.

Stan and Jungleboys will share international sales of the shows and the format.

“I think it's really important for a production company to have an international outlook, because particularly for a company like ours which is focused on comedy, the market's pretty small,” Burrows said.

“It's a pretty tight-margin business, so just selling your show to just Australia is not that smart. You hope for a breakout hit whether that be in tape or format internationally.”

International sales will also help Stan offset some of the costs of producing the content.

“Obviously the costs of producing content are astronomically high, especially around commissioned content, but the trade off is that you're more in charge of your own destiny,” Forward said.

“It's critical what we make feels local, but we want to try and offset some of the costs by using international partners. The shows we commission also need to feel more international in tone so we can continue to fund an ongoing funding of programming.”

Stan has also experimented with teaming up with other networks on the most effective way to bring content to Australia. One such partnership was with SBS over the series Dig. While Dig is currently showing on SBS, it was available in full on Stan for some time before that.

“I think for all of us, it's a bit of a new world in terms of how content is windowed and distributed in Australia,” Forward said.

“There is a thought that we can align ourselves collectively with other windows to make sure we're all maximising potential audiences.”

There is also talk that SVOD platforms and their network partners could strike overall development deals with key production houses in Australia in order to achieve economies of scale.

Burrows said it was close to signing onto doing content for a commercial network, a first for Jungleboys, but was coy when asked whether this would be Channel Nine.

“We haven't worked with any of the commercial networks, but we're hoping there might be something in the very near future,” Burrows said.

Aside from potential deals, Burrows said while the creative freedom afforded by the SVOD format was welcome, having more sources of work was even more welcome.

“We had a naive belief that if we made something funny then we would find somebody,” Burrows said. “I think that's even more true now if you do it within budget, with the number of platforms out there.”

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